International Comparative Perspectives

This symposium provides a cross cultural, global and comparative perspective on the contemporary topic of corporate social responsibility (CSR). The symposium is based on the assumption that the actual issues and challenges for CSR is highly dependent on the regional/national historical, cultural and institutional legacies in which corporations operate. Thus the first aim is to provide on overview of the state-of-the-art in the academic debate on CSR from major regional perspectives of the globe. These include North America and Europe as representatives of the developed world where CSR and related concepts have been developed and discussed for a considerable time.

However, the symposium mirrors the fact that through globalization corporate actors face new challenges especially when moving beyond the frontiers of the industrialized world. Therefore a specific focus is put on the developing world by examining CSR in the context of one of fastest growing regions (Asia) as well as a typical issue for CSR in the less developed world, namely biodiversity and intellectual property rights.

Next to these different agendas of CSR in different regions of the world the second aim of the symposium is to expose the converging effects of globalization on CSR. On a global level, transnational actors such as inter- and non-governmental organizations work on a similar playing field as corporate actors. It is increasingly on this level that corporate responsibility and accountability becomes an issue. One of the key topics of discussion encouraged by the symposium is the question of how corporate accountability and control can be adjusted and restored in an age where democratically legitimised institutions face increasing impediments to the control of economic, social and political processes.

Symposium Overview 1. Introduction The concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) draws on both aspects of the Academy of Management's 2003 theme, Democracy in a knowledge economy. CSR is widely seen both as one form of democratising business and as bearing features of the knowledge economy. The most familiar manifestations of CSR are grounded in national systems of business-society relations reflecting their differing democratic characteristics. Aspects of these national social, political and economic contexts for CSR appear to be shaped, sometimes even threatened, by globalisation.

The symposium brings together research on CSR from different parts of the globe. It starts with two papers from the perspective of the industrialized world (North America and Europe) where a more longstanding legacy of CSR can be identified. It also looks at the industrializing and developing part of the world by analysing the role of CSR in one of the key developing region (Asia) as well as in one of the showcase issues of CSR in the 'Third World' (Biodiversity). The symposium finishes with a concluding rounding-up paper on the changing nature of the global playing field for CSR (NGOs and other multistakeholder environments).

It thus provides an overview of crucial issues and challenges for the research in CSR by exploring specific cultural and institutional regional backgrounds of relevant areas of the global economy. It presents issues from the developed and the developing world in one session and works out the mutual relations and potential tensions within and between the two sides. In referring to CSR in this symposium we refer to a rather broad view of the term. It would, of course, include the original view as outlined by Carroll (1979) as well as other developments in the field (see Carroll 1999 as an overview), such as corporate social performance and -responsiveness, stakeholder management or more recent ramifications, such as corporate citizenship (see Matten and Crane forthcoming for the legitimacy of such an approach).

Drawing on Manuel Castells, Zadek argues that Corporate citizenship [which, for present purposes, is a synonym for CSR] has emerged in its contemporary forms within the context of the emerging New Economy… characterised by the acceleration of every aspect of social life, the collapse of geographical distance as a basis for defining and sustaining difference; and the growing significance of knowledge and innovation as the primary source of business competition and economic value. (2001: 7)

Thus CSR is increasingly seen as an economic resource (McWilliams and Siegel 2001). This is reflected in the emerging 'CSR industry'. This includes networks and markets for CSR knowledge including: consultants from mainstream accountancy and consultancy firms; consultants from specialist CSR advisers; advisers from CSR membership organisations; CSR media; and CSR professional trainers (Wilson and Gribben undated). Companies are increasingly concerned to substantiate their social and environmental performance and are commissioning CSR consultants to assist in designing their systems and verifying their claims.

Like CSR overall, CSR knowledge is not a set of abstractions of what business behaviour is or should be, but a complex of national-specific and globalising understandings and exchanges. 3. Democracy and CSR Democracy, similar to CSR, is a 'contested concept' (Moon 2002). Individually, both are appraisive, internally complex and open (Gallie 1956). As a result the meanings of the concepts are in constant flux. This is because the boundaries of their application get challenged, particularly by activists and entrepreneurs seeking to extend their respective usages. This is as much true of CSR today as when restrictive manifestations of democracy have been challenged by, for example, the suffragettes who sought to challenge the contemporary usage (i.e. a sexist one) by mobilisation of what they saw as the essential meaning of democracy (i.e. equal political power).

Thus, the meaning of the democratic aspects of CSR is particularly subject to contest and re-interpretation. However, it can nonetheless be recognised that a number of features of CSR reflect the broadly democratic principle of increasing participation in business. This is reflected in the use of the concept of 'citizenship' as a metaphor for CSR (e.g. Carroll 1998, Matten et al. forthcoming, Moon 1995). It is also reflected in the increased association of CSR with new forms of democratic governance (e.g. Moon 2002a). Most obviously the increased attention to stakeholder relations constitutes an expansion of the identity, if not of 'principals' (re Friedman's 1970 essay on principals and agents in CSR), but of those who have a 'stake' in a company's decisions and fortunes (Freeman 1984).

Although, there has clearly been some international learning about CSR, like business systems there is much to suggest that it's manifestations are essentially reflections of national phenomena (Whitley 1999). Recognising that, by definition, CSR is non-compulsory and therefore that there are intra-country variations in firm-level behaviour, our point is that the scope and nature of this activity reflects national settings. Indeed, there are also sub-national empirical and normative bases for business-society relations premised on regional (e.g. in Italy) or ethnic (e.g. aboriginal) factors.

Some basic examples convey the basic point. CSR in the USA is more likely to be conducted through philanthropic foundations than it is in the UK. This reflects both the demonstration effect of early American corporate philanthropists such as Carnegie and Rockefeller and the long-term impact of incentives through the American taxation system (Dowie 2001 on the USA; Anheier and Leat 2002 on the UK).

The comparative emphasis of Japanese CSR on environmental standards reflects the impact of templates for reporting environmental performance provided by the government (Fukukawa, Gow and Moon in progress). The relatively advanced environmental responsibility of Dutch business in general, and the financial sector in particular, reflects a national sense of environmental vulnerability and government incentives and encouragement for business to develop environmentally friendly practices (Jeucken 2002).

Notwithstanding the apparent straightforward examples, overall national CSR systems reflect dense patterns of norms, institutions, incentives and rules. These not only inform the scope and nature of CSR through their impact on business alone but also through their impact on the responsibilities that government and societal actors (e.g. churches, community organisations, churches) adopt, which in turn offer space, boundaries and entry points for CSR.